If my mum knew how much my house in Ireland cost, she'd have a heart attack

New to the Parish: Daiga Ancikovska, from Latvia, has been living in Ireland since 2009

Daiga Ancikovska from Latvia who has been living in Ireland since 2009: “I love how diverse it is in Ireland now. Our new neighbours are from all over the world.” Photograph:  Nick Bradshaw

Daiga Ancikovska from Latvia who has been living in Ireland since 2009: “I love how diverse it is in Ireland now. Our new neighbours are from all over the world.” Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Daiga Ancikovska felt like the odd one out growing up in rural Latvia. Her two younger sisters loved working on their grandparents’ farm during the summer months and relished the opportunity to learn how to milk cows and weed strawberries. Ancikovska, on the other hand, was more interested in reading books and going out with friends.

“Before every school term we had to earn our pocket money for things like new runners or sports gear. We had to work hard doing weeding and looking after the garden. The country life at that point wasn’t for me. People would pick on me saying ‘you don’t want to get your hands dirty, you don’t want to roll up your sleeves’.”

Despite her dislike of farm work, Ancikovska still enjoyed exploring the surrounding wilderness and spending nights camping near rivers and lakes in the district of Aizkraukle, about 100km north of Riga. “I had a very fun childhood, it was very beautiful and green and we would pick wild mushrooms and berries.”

When she turned 16, Ancikovska left home to attend a high school which offered courses in business and economics. “I didn’t really see many opportunities for myself where I was living. I lived with a nice lady and shared a room with another girl who went to the same school. Obviously we had to pay rent and also had to learn to be independent and cook as well as studying hard.”

Too tough

She moved to Riga aged 18 to study political science at the University Latvia but after two intense years of classes and assignments she decided it was time for a break. “I find in Latvia people are too young to decide exactly what they want to do with their life. After two years I said, ‘this is too tough’.”

Ancikovska and her best friend moved to Finland to work for a summer and returned to Latvia ready to continue their adventures abroad. They met with a friend who had been living in Ireland for a year and who suggested they visit.

“There was no real reason why we wanted to go, it was just to earn some money and do some travelling. He said he had a spare room in a town called Granard in Co Longford so we booked tickets to Ireland. We had never even flown before.”

‘Wasn’t for us’

In late November, the two young women arrived in Ireland and began searching for work. “Some people took us to these mushroom farms but we saw the conditions and said that’s not for us. We also went to Dublin because we were interested in au pairing but that wasn’t for us either.”

Ancikovska’s friend eventually found work as a pastry chef in a bakery in Sligo town and Ancikovska got a job in a nearby coffee shop. The pair spent the following nine months hitchhiking around Ireland on weekends and visiting friends in Longford. Ancikovska loved Ireland but was determined to return to Riga to complete her studies.

She spent her final few months in Carlow where she met a Portuguese man called Norberto. “I was just doing the grocery shopping in SuperValu and he came up and said hi. The next day, it was Paddy’s Day, he introduced me to seven or eight pubs. He had been living in Ireland since 1998.

“I was sad having to leave but I don’t like to leave things unfinished and I couldn’t disappoint my family, I still had another 2½ years of study left. Norberto and I stayed together but he’s very relaxed and I was the same.”

Ancikovska ended up spending four years in Latvia before moving back to Ireland to be with Norberto. She arrived in Carlow in 2009 where she discovered a community transformed by the financial crash.

“Things had fallen apart. People didn’t want to speak to you if you were looking for a job. They would take a CV but weren’t interested, they had enough of their own problems.”

Ancikovska began volunteering in the local credit union and citizens’ information office while Norberto supported her financially as the job search continued. “After six months of training at citizens’ information I was sitting with people telling them about their rights and entitlements. A lot of people were coming in upset at that time – they were losing their homes and relationships were falling apart.

Volunteering

“Meanwhile, I was still trying to find my own way in Ireland. It was difficult listening to people while looking for my own job. I was volunteering pretty much every day of the week. I knew I had to get out of the house, I’m not the type of person to sit at home and do nothing.”

Ancikovska eventually secured an internship through the JobBridge scheme. She subsequently found paid work at the Fingal Volunteer Centre and began commuting from Carlow to north Co Dublin. She is now a manager at the centre and recently bought a house with her now husband in Balbriggan. Norberto, who grew up in Lisbon, was eager for the couple to live near the sea.

“We couldn’t afford a house in Skerries or Portmarnock so we went to Balbriggan. North Co Dublin had got fairly expensive but I’d been working there for six years so I knew the area well. The houses here are very overpriced and the quality’s not the best. My mum still doesn’t know how much the house cost because she might have a heart attack. In Latvia it would be a huge amount of money.”

After six years in Ireland, Ancikovska says she’s happy to set down roots here. “You’re accepted here for who you are; you don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not. I also love how diverse it is in Ireland now. Our new neighbours are from all over the world and I like the fact that the kids play together and don’t look at nationalities.

“We’ve made the decision to stay. I never say never but I don’t think I’ll go back to Latvia unless there’s some massive change in my life. My family can hop on a plane and visit and it’s direct with Ryanair to Riga. We’re comfortable where we are.”